Poor Croatian Publishing Climate Leads Publishers to Other Continents

Lauren Simmonds

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Sasa Paparella writes on the 15th of November, 2019, the start of this year’s Interliber coincided with the bankruptcy of Algoritam, once a leading Croatian publisher. On the occasion of the opening of the much loved book fair, Culture Minister Nina Obuljen Koržinek said that after the collapse of Agrokor and the bookstore chain Algoritam MK, which had almost dragged domestic publishing to its knees, the situation in the industry had “stabilised”.

Croatian publishers, however, don’t fully agree with this statement, noting that there is still not enough bookstores in Croatia, and the question is what will happen to the existing ones – The company Hoću knjigu (I want a book) which took over most bookstores from the failed Algorithm chain, lost a massive two million kuna last year.

As it isn’t easy to do business in Croatia whichever way you look at it, and indeed whichever industry you’re in, some of Croatian publishers are instead choosing to put their energy into conquering foreign markets. Thus, the children’s books published by Zagreb’s Kašmir promet have seen as many as 12 million copies sold in China in the last five years alone. The circulation of their 40 or so titles averages 300,000, and sometimes exceeds half a million copies.

“We have six publishers in China, and three more have visited us now during Interliber. The story began back in 2014 when we were exhibiting at the Seoul Fair, our books there were liked by the Chinese, and they invited us to take a tour. It lasted a month and we toured the twelve largest Chinese cities, and my wife Andrea Petrlik Huseinović had exhibitions of her illustrations, too. We signed the books for three to four hours a day, they feel like we’re stars. When we had to go to the car, people ran after us to sign more books,” Huseinović recalls.

They have been successful on other continents outside of our own here in Europe as well – in South America, more precisely Colombia, they have one title which was printed in seven issues, and in Mexico, they have one title currently being proofread (Poljski miš i gradski miš/The field mouse and the city mouse).

“If we hadn’t expanded, we’d have disappeared a long time ago! With the money from the sale of rights over there, we’re manahing to cover the business here at home,” says Huseinović.

Despite various problems, Slavko Kozina, the new president of the Publishers and Bookstores Community (ZNIK), remains very optimistic about the state of things.

“There’s no longer any drama in the industry, but recovery is slow. The state is now more concerned with things, the Ministry of Education has once again started providing money after ten years to buy books for school libraries – this year that amount stands at 5 million kuna, and a total of 20 million kuna will be distributed from EU funds in the coming years. In addition to that, the Ministry of Culture is providing 33 million kuna in grants and for book purchases, and we have an Entrepreneur in Culture contest,” Kozina says.

The problem is with Croatian bookstores, there are enough of them only in the very centre of Zagreb. The famous Morpurgo Bookstore in Split has been closed for two years now. The new owner of the space, a vulcaniser, wants to open a cafe in one of Europe’s oldest bookstores, but the space is protected so he’s failed in that venture, and the City of Split is trying to get ownership of it by offering it in exchange for another property.

“Although Hoću knjigu does well at Joker and in the Mall of Split, the city needs at least one more serious bookstore. Our interest is dispersion, which is why ZNIK has just launched the Mediterranean Book Festival in Split,” Kozina notes.

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